Today it is 92 degrees with about 85% humidity, and I have to say I am dreaming about cool fall afternoons, color changes, and, of course, cyclocross! Last year I wrote an article on the demands of cyclocross with a strategic view of cyclocross training, so this year I’ve decided to take a more tactical approach, focusing on some key elements and suggesting some workouts to improve them.
As I said in last year’s article, one of the keys to success in cyclocross is to build and maintain the highest Functional Threshold Power (FTP) you can. A cyclocross race is like a blend of a crit and a 40k time trial, and it requires a high FTP as a critical underlying demand. Since I went into this in the first article, I’m going to focus on some other areas here.
With your background reading out of the way, let’s focus on three situation demands that are keys to success in cyclocross performance: hard starts, repeatable anaerobic demands, and the run/ride effect on fatigue.
Hard Start and Sustainability
It all starts here (no pun intended). In cyclocross it’s crucial to be able to get in the front group and stay there. This means you need to prepare your body for hard starts, holding high watts for anywhere from one to five minutes (this really depends on the course), and then settling at threshold-level watts.
Here is where building specificity in your training can really help. Try this workout:
Hard Start/Over-Under FTP Intervals
Warm up on your local course or training field for a solid 15 minutes, then head over to your “start line.” Unclip one foot, take a few deep breaths, hit your lap button, and GO! Start hard, sprinting off the line, and then target around 110-120% of your FTP for the first 2 minutes of this interval, then drop to about 90-95% of your FTP and hold that pace for an additional 8 minutes. During the 90-95% of FTP phase of the interval, complete a standing 15-second attack every 2 minutes. Rest for 7-10 minutes between and repeat 2-4 times in a workout depending on your fitness.
Strong Anaerobic Capacity
The short, intense efforts that make up cyclocross events are supplied by all energy systems, but they rely proportionally more on the ATP-PC and glycolytic systems, as opposed to the oxidative system, which dominates longer road races. This means you need a big anaerobic capacity. In my experience, as long as you have solid fitness and have done some racing through the summer, focusing on capacity (repeatability) vs. power (higher power) will pay higher dividends. I know higher power numbers feel good, but focusing on capacity brings results.
You can use a variety of shorter intervals to do this, but it’s important to use shorter rest periods to prevent full recovery. Here’s a simple but high-quality workout to help build anaerobic capacity:
Warm up on your local course and complete 2 interval sets with 5 minutes of rest between. Interval set one is 6 x 2 minutes with 2 minutes rest between; for these intervals, target 115-135% of FTP at a lower cadence (65-75 rpm). Interval set two is 6 x 1 minute with 2 minutes rest between; for these efforts target 125-150% of FTP at the highest cadence you can complete. Cool down and head home.
Run and Ride
Dismounting and running even the shortest amount of distance can really fatigue riders who haven’t prepared themselves for this demand. To be successful, you need to incorporate running into your training in two ways. The first is base running, which means getting in some shorter runs in your first training cycle as you prepare for the season. This can be done in a simple brick format, running for 5-20 minutes after your ride.
Once you have a few of these base runs under your belt and your training progresses into the second cycle, you need to add race-simulation running formats into your training to prepare your body for the strain of dismount-run-remount when the effort is high.
Here’s a great workout that blends the benefits of Tabata-style intervals with some running:
CX Tabata Ride/Run
Warm up on your local course, then compete 2 or 3 Tabata-style intervals of 20 seconds hard sprint and 10 seconds recovery repeated 8 times (total of 4 minutes). But let’s add an element of performance running by alternating your hard intervals between on the bike and running. This means pedal hard (at max) for 20 seconds, ride easy for 10 seconds, dismount at the end of the 10 seconds of easy, then sprint your next 20-second interval, remount at the end, ride easy for 10 seconds, then pedal hard (at max) for the next 20 seconds, and so on.
As a bonus note, it is also very important to build and maintain your technique and skills. I highly suggest selecting a local course (or several) and including skill drills into as many workouts as you can.
Have a great season!
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 Product Development Leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is also Head Coach at Velocious Cycling Adventures. You can reach Tim for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org . To learn more about TrainingPeaks and WKO4 visit us at TrainingPeaks.com.